Reviews elsewhere on the web:
Mathematical Association of America
Harvard Book Review
Popular Science

I B Cohen

The Triumph of Numbers

The modern state keeps track of a great deal of information about its people - how many there are, what illnesses they suffer from and what goods they produce. In The Triumph of Numbers I.B. Cohen traces how this massive use of statistics came about. It starts with a discussion of the building of the pyramids, but most of the book is concerned with the widespread adoption of statistical methods in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The history of statistics may not seem like a particularly interesting subject, but Cohen's book is surprisingly readable even if it's unlikely to make the bestseller lists.

Cohen looks at the work of early writers such as John Graunt and Sir William Petty and goes on to show how well known statesmen such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson pushed forward the greater use of statistics in our lives. There is a chapter looking at the work of the nineteenth century statistician Adolphe Quetelet. The final chapter examines the work of Florence Nightingale. Now you may think of her as 'The Lady with the Lamp' but this book presents a different picture of her - as someone who was 'passionate about statistics' and whose major contribution was in persuading the government to take notice of the shocking statistics of military and other hospitals.

Product Description

From the pyramids to mortality tables, Galileo to Florence Nightingale, a vibrant history of numbers and the birth of statistics.

The great historian of science I. B. Cohen explores how numbers have come to assume a leading role in science, in the operations and structure of government, in marketing, and in many other aspects of daily life. Consulting and collecting numbers has been a feature of human affairs since antiquity―taxes, head counts for military service―but not until the Scientific Revolution in the twelfth century did social numbers such as births, deaths, and marriages begin to be analyzed. Cohen shines a new light on familiar figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Dickens; and he reveals Florence Nightingale to be a passionate statistician. Cohen has left us with an engaging and accessible history of numbers, an appreciation of the essential nature of statistics.